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5 Ways To Reduce Meat's Cancer Risk Besides Moderation

10/30/2015 03:02 EDT | Updated 10/30/2016 05:12 EDT
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Couple dining

You knew it was coming, the news that bacon is carcinogenic along with its processed meat brethren of deli meats, smoked meats and hot dogs.

This week, the World Health Organization rocked your lunch world by placing processed meats in the highest carcinogen category (where cigarettes and asbestos reside) and cooked red meat in the second highest (probable carcinogen) category. Let's just be clear, this is not news.

It is the confirmation of widely suspected information based upon the latest gathering of scientists with research to share with the endorsement of the respected World Health Organization. Nothing has changed. The information is telling you that consuming these foods puts you at increased risk of cancers, particularly those of the colon. It does not say that biting into that sandwich will cause cancer.

The evidence supporting a vegetarian diet and positive health outcomes is pretty solid. But, the backlash of this meat news is real. People do not want to give up their beloved burger and bacon has been elevated to iconic levels. The arguments range from "I don't care, at least I will die happy." to "Oh please, people have been eating smoked and cooked meat for millennia."

The bottom line is that the downside of meat consumption is dose-dependent. The more processed the meat, the higher temperature at which it is cooked, the more risk you encounter.

To reduce your risk you (still) need to:

  • Eat mostly vegetables
  • Consume high vitamin C fruits and vegetables with any smoked, cured, processed, or cooked meat to mitigate the risk
  • If you are going to enjoy processed meats, you need to choose the best in class with the highest quality, lowest sugar, lowest salt amounts. One or two slices will be better (on many levels beyond carcinogenetic concerns) than a sky-high pile.
  • If you are going to consume red meats (which this recommendation assessed as beef, mutton, pork, lamb, horse, or goat), use low-temperature, braised, or stewed methods of cooking. High temperature direct pan frying or grilling creates more carcinogens.
  • Reduce your overall amount of meat as low as comfortable. There are still protein, B vitamin and zinc nutrients that are beneficial and difficult to obtain elsewhere.

I really detest the saying "everything in moderation" because my moderation is different from yours, and neither of us knows what the outcomes will be of our choices. We don't eat nutrients, we eat foods and for many different reasons.

Meals are meant to be enjoyed with other people. The growing, preparing and serving of food is a joy in and of itself. The more focus we can bring to those activities, the more sense of well being we can feel. I haven't seen the numbers quantified on how or if this calmness reduces the risk of cancer, but it sure does make life worth living.

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Processed meats that 'are carcinogenic', according to WHO